Open Letter to a Blogger

If you are tired of writing about yourself, try writing about someone else.  

Is it such a great leap to write about the old woman who lived across the street, the one you sat with at her kitchen table when you first moved in, where you shared a can of Budweizer and talked about cookies and children, the old woman who you had thought had only one son (who she implied was not easy to get along with), but turned out to be two, coming and going in the night, identical twins who you never talked to until the day before you were moving out and met one on the curb to discuss the old radio cabinet?  

He wanted the guts of the thing.

He collected radio tubes and had a recording studio in the basement.

You asked how his mother felt about that.

He implied that his mother was not an easy person to get along with.  


More Thoughts From Ekphrasis Class

The students are hesitant to believe they can do it, even though we've been practicing all semester.

They are afraid of judging their classmates.  

So why judge?  

The only judgmental writing we've done are the emphatic reviews of The Shaggs, for which we then wrote emphatic reviews from the opposite perspective.  Why is there any need to judge at all?  So that we know what's "good" art from what's "bad?"  So that we know what opinions to hold in order to be esteemed by choice groups of people?

Who cares?  

Why not concern ourselves with recognizing what a creative work does to us?

Notice that the chatter of judgement only impedes our ability to experience.  

Why not use every act of creativity as inspiration?  

The more we all add, the more we all gain.  

Take in art. Bring forth art. What more is there to do?


A Few Things I Learned at The Wisdom of Wombats First Interactive PoPuP Gallery

1)  Good enough is good enough.

2)  What you are too busy to do, save for next time.

3)  Nothing is worth getting frustrated about.

4)  Appleton is full of interesting, creative people who enjoy contributing to community raised art.

5)  When The Beaver reads Jesus Shaved by Paranoid Larry, he hauntingly resembles both.

6)  It's okay that John called it "Signs of Life," and Ken called it "A Day in the Life."

7)  Matt can be funny.

8)  Rae and Judith both live in the neighborhood!

9)  Joy's husband can be trusted with her most important errands.

10)  Ian can play guitar sober.

11)  An old black man who fries chicken at Mama's thinks I'm "hot stuff."

12)  Linda is delighted to discover so many other eccentrics in town.

13)  Gwyned is not afraid to confront Matt about moving her cards.

14)  Matt is interested in practicing yoga even though he doesn't know it yet.

15)  Tad's mom enjoys recalling how Tad used to crawl out of his crib to get to her Elvis albums.

16)  Even while standing in the rain, waiting for Ken to bring the key, holding trays of snacks, Joy and Rae remain joyful.

17)  Ken thinks we need to buy a building.

18)  Nathan arrives at just the right time.

19)  Meredith used to waitress at the Queen Bee.

20)  Whenever you have a chance to listen to Hal Rammel and Matt Turner play, do.

21)  Don't get Doug started on fracking.

tad neuhaus, diddley bow
joanna dane, banjo


ExtraOrdinary Improvisations TONIGHT!

One of a Kind
Never to be Repeated
Not to be Missed


Amplified Palettes
Electrified Diddley Bows
Odd Ball Concert Notes
plus Group Lyric Writing:
What Does the Wombat Say?


Coming Soon: Wisdom of Wombats PoPuP Gallery

Come discover your own strange anthem, 
at the Wisdom of Wombats PoPuP Gallery!

featuring Interactive Exhibits:

Factorial Story Writing

A Very Beaver Soundscape

Pin the Tail on Appleton

Found Poetry Writing

Hommage to Alexander Calder

Rae's Keys

Reviving the Exquisite Corpse

Drumming Like a Trucker

Become Your Own Composer

Join Our Wisdom Mask Decorating


Crazy People Music Organ Playing

502 West College Avenue

Thursday, April 24th: 5-8pm
Friday, April 25th: Noon-10pm
Saturday, April 26th: Noon-10pm
Sunday, April 27th: Noon-3pm

Appleton, Wisconsin

Hope to see you there!


Hippie Watching* at the Memorial Union with Caroline Rose and Nathaniel Rateliff

Caroline Rose
Upon arriving in Madison, we were pleasantly surprised to see that Nathaniel Rateliff from Denver was playing at the Union.  We stumbled upon him playing there a couple of years ago and were blown away.  We've been listening to him ever since.  And now we've discovered Caroline Rose as well! What good fortune!

Nathaniel Rateliff
Caroline's dad who lives in New York and must be very cool makes these - a unique design for every show! - and she is giving them away with the purchase of a CD!  So beautiful, we might have to steal the idea to make posters for the Wisdom of Wombat Interactive Gallery at the Opening Reception this Thursday.

*It used to be Pau, the tiny and charming Filipino man and Pogo, the thin and stern bouncing man, who danced at every show at the Union.  Now it's a rotund man with long stringy gray hair who occasionally gets one of the pretty female students who is too nice to say no to dance with him.


In Defense of Not Having to Understand: Thoughts About Tiny Songs One Week Before the Opening Reception of the Wisdom of Wombats PoPuP Gallery

W.o.W. PoPuP Gallery Gala Opening
Thursday, April 24th, 5-8pm
502 West College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin


*Rib Mountain

**Joseph Schumpeter (Wikipedia)
Schumpeter claimed that he had set himself three goals in life: to be the greatest economist in the world, to be the best horseman in all of Austria and the greatest lover in all of Vienna. He said he had reached two of his goals, but he never said which two,[12][13] although he is reported to have said that there were too many fine horsemen in Austria for him to succeed in all his aspirations.[14]


On Becoming a Composer

Here's the type of thing I used to think about when my parents took me to the symphony.  I wondered why didn't the basses play the melody and the violins play the bass line.  I was curious how turning the music on its head would sound.  I never considered this "the moment I knew I would become a composer," since I never considered myself a composer until last night even though I've been making up music since I bought a bamboo flute in Cameroon in 1996.

We learned to read words and then to write in our own words.  But in music we learned only to read and not to play our own sounds.  I haven't been able to figure out why.  Where along the line did learning to play music become such a chore?  Why do we burden ourselves with sticking so strictly to a terse and serious course?

A composer was a person who spends a great many years studying every instrument in the symphony. And even though I imagined a composer hunched over paper (something I was very comfortable with), I knew they wrote in a language too tedious for my breed.  I didn't want to study, I wanted to play.

We played diddly bow until the glass broke.

One summer, riding my bike down a curving summer lane, a perfect sentence describing the arching maples gripped me with the need to write it down.  I raced home and made a notebook with a wallpaper cover and wrote the sentence in cursive.  That's the moment I knew I wanted to become a writer.

Or at least, that's the memory that emerged when it occurred to me to try to discover where this urge to write came from.

I did what I envisioned people who are writers do:  I wrote a novel and tried to get it published and then wrote a lot of short stories and tried to get those published and I convinced myself that I was on the right path and pushed myself to keep going even though the more I wrote the tighter the writing wound until it was wound so tight, it burst.

I ask the students to write about visions of their futures starting with a scene from the past.  One tells me she doesn't like the assignment.  Her vision of the future is too pessimistic she says and she's spinning her wheels trying to write about the past.  Forget the scene from the past and write about your pessimistic vision, I suggest.  She says it's too depressing.  Then imagine an optimistic future and write about that.  She says that's too unrealistic.  I suggest she not worry about that.  In that case, she tells me, she might as well just write about how she wants a live on Mars and have a pet unicorn.

Yesterday I told Tad what I used to think about when I went to the symphony with my parents.  And it struck me for the first time that here were the memories that indicated I would become a composer even though I never knew I would become one until the moment it occurred to me to tell the story of how I became one.


April 24-27 The Wisdom of Wombats Presents

W.o.W. invites you
To not miss out on life! Be a participant.
April 24-27. 
502 West College Ave., Appleton, WI.

The Wisdom of Wombats, a Fox Valley artists' collective, 
is producing Signs of Life an interactive pop-up gallery.

Thursday, 5-8pm: Opening Reception. Snacks, live music and informal discussions with the artists.  

Friday, Noon-10pm: Open Gallery*.  3-5pm: Drawing from Negatives with photographer physicist John Beaver.  5-6pm: Gallery meditation and writing workshop with Joanna Dane.  8pm: Live music - Breath Is Song with Ian Moore.  

Saturday, Noon-10pm:  Open Gallery*.  Noon-1pm: Diddley Bow Making with Tad Neuhaus. 1pm: Signs of Life: An Afternoon in Appleton, creating a community cellphone photo essay. Head out to snap photos or stay at the gallery and help create the exhibit.  2-4pm: Community Quilt Making with Gwyned Trefethen.  7pm: Musical Improvisations with Elaborate Bungle (Matt Turner, Tad Neuhaus, Joanna Dane).  8pm: Master instrument creator and improv-er Hal Rammel and master of electric cello Matt Turner play spontaneous, mind-blowing originals. 

Sunday, Noon-3pm: Open Gallery*.  1- 3pm: Readings hosted by poet physicist Doug Fowler, and a writing event with sidewalk poet Meredith Mason.

*Open Gallery interactive exhibits include:  Be Your Own Composer, Triangle of Success, A Very Beaver Soundscape, Factorial Stories, Random Poetry, and Join Our Wisdom.


Hal Rammel Is Coming To Appleton, Saturday, April 26th!

Don't miss it!

Hal Rammel and Matt Turner
Interactive PoPuP Gallery
502 W. College Avenue, Appleton

Saturday, April 26th
music starts at 7pm with 
Appleton's own: Elaborate Bungle

Wisdom of Wombats:
a collective of fox valley artists
mutually supporting and enabling
cross-genre exploration and improvisation



Everywhere she looks is the goose.

He wants more than she can give.

But that doesn't seem to discourage him.


Short Quotations from the Conversation Between Judy Blume and Lena Dunham Published by Believer Books, 2013

Judy never thought her books would be popular.

Lena gets lots of love letters from men in prison.

"My best ideas still come from scribbling," says Judy.

"I'm fascinated by people's breakfasts," says Lena.

"I've tried really hard to not have this phobia," says Judy.

"I feel connected to you," says Lena.

"I feel so lucky," says Judy.

"I have an authority problem." says Lena.

"I'm not alone!  I'm not alone!" says Judy.

"It's an exhilarating feeling," says Lena.

"I can't always read my handwriting," says Judy.

"That's so nice to hear," says Lena.

"My father was a great rhymer," says Judy.

"I read Lolita when I was nine," says Lena.


Say Say My Playmate

I grew up on a long city block in Omaha, 13 houses to a side, the first ring of suburbs that now feels like the inner city.  There used to be a trolley car between Dundee and Downtown.  It is a neighborhood built for walking, not walking for exercise, but for everything.  Within four blocks of our house was a grocery, a dairy, a gas station, a diner, a bar and grill, a drug store with a soda fountain where we used to hang out after school, and a movie theatre, where I first saw Rear Window, and that haunting scene where Grace Kelly gets caught snooping in the apartment across the way, and then caught signaling behind her back to James Stewart who she knows is watching through his telephoto lens, the ring she has stolen, evidence of murder.  The man who they have been spying on for days and nights on end, frowns at her gesturing and looks up, straight into Stewart's camera.

On the walk home, my brother told me that Grace Kelly died of a brain aneurysm, which he was sure to emphasize, could happen to any one at any time.  I fell into a 7-day funk until my mom couldn't stand it any longer and during dinner demanded to know what was wrong with me.  "I'm going to die some day!" I sobbed.  The family rolled their eyes.  Is that it?  We all are.  Life goes on.  Get over it.

There were over 50 kids on the 51st Street block between Howard and Farnam.  We played outside and played in basements, attics, bedrooms and garages.  Factions were formed.  We held court.  The oldest was judge. Some of the games we played had designers, manufacturers, patents, and rules listed on the box. Other games were ancient, passed from one child to another over the centuries.  Hide and Go Seek.  Pickle.  Hopscotch.  Kickball.  Horse.  When we jumped rope, we sang songs.  When we chose who to be it, we chanted rhymes.  We played clapping games and skipping games and games with a circle of string.

No adults had taught us these things.  We just knew all the words without knowing how we knew.

For how long have kids been chanting Say Say My Playmate?  How far its range?


What is Your Triangle of Success?

brush teeth
comb hair
eat lunch

pack snack
set coffee maker
lay out clothes

make love
skinny dip




The Strange and True Failings of a Musical Education

Saul Steinberg's violinist

Here is a man who has played violin since he was a little boy, a man who practices everyday, who was first chair in the youth symphony, who graduated with a music degree from a prestigious university, who went on to get his PhD in violin performance.  This same man, who plays for audiences all over the world, is hired by a rock band to play some filler for an album, and panics, because despite all his years of training and practice and performance, he has never been asked to create a musical phrase of his own.

right-handed copy of Saul Steinberg's violinist
left-handed copy of Saul Steinberg's violinist


Stages of Ordinary Short-Term Illness

1) Dread that I am going to feel terrible.

2) Self-pity that I feel terrible.

3) Relief that I don't have to do anything but lie on the couch feeling terrible.

4) Acceptance that I am going to die.

5) Mild surprise that I am recovering.

6) Depression that I've done nothing but lie around on the couch.

7) Disappointment at the low quality of my thoughts.

8) Gratitude for the return of good health.

9) Annoyance at how quickly the gratitude is trampled by robust anxieties, doubts, envies, guilt.